(New York) - China's National People's Congress should make progress on key, overdue reforms and should ensure citizens will not be punished for speaking out around its annual meeting, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo. The National People's Congress (NPC), which meets annually and is attended by more than 3,000 delegates from across the country, opens in Beijing on March 5, 2014.
Human Rights Watch urged the NPC to take immediate legislative action on three major issues that have broad public support: abolishing all forms of arbitrary detention, enacting a comprehensive law to end domestic violence, and ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
"The National People's Congress should use this opportunity to close the gap between commitment and action on key issues the public in China cares deeply about," said Sophie Richardson, China director. "Failure to do so will further undermine legitimacy and reinforce the idea that the Congress is little more than a rubber-stamp legislature."
The Chinese government signed the ICCPR in 1998 and has claimed to be working on "creating the conditions for ratification" for more than a decade. In recent years, there have been numerous calls for ratification both internationally and domestically. At China's October 2013 Universal Periodic Review, dozens of states from around the world urged immediate ratification.
The NPC has included a law on domestic violence in its work plans since 2012, according to official announcements, but there has been little information regarding any progress. Domestic violence is estimated to affect a quarter of Chinese women, and calls for a law to address the problem have come from not only the public, but also from domestic Chinese legal experts and the quasi-official All-China Women's Federation in recent years.
When the government abolished the abusive Re-Education Through Labor system last year, it acknowledged that detention by an administrative authority - the police - violates China's Constitution. Yet the government has not dismantled a number of other similarly abusive administrative detention systems, including Custody and Education and Drug Rehabilitation Centers, which are used to detain without trial individuals allegedly engaged in sex work and drug use. The Chinese government also allows an extralegal detention system the Chinese Communist Party uses for members it investigates, known as "shuanggui," as well as secret and unlawful "black jails" for petitioners. The NPC should build upon the abolition of RTL last year by abolishing all other forms of administrative detention systems and announce measures to close all such detention facilities.
Human Rights Watch also expressed concerns with the past practice of detaining petitioners and activists before, during, and after the NPC meeting, and urged the Chinese government to respect freedom of expression as set out in Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution.
"Instead of suppressing citizens' ideas about state policies, the Chinese government should use this opportunity to engage with them," Richardson said. "Especially with the looming 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, the least the government can do is to allow some public space for people to discuss the tragedy and other key human rights issues facing the country today."